Thursday night is lifeboat night.”
That is the dedicated mindset of the voluntary members of the Enniskillen RNLI crew who selflessly spend countless hours preparing themselves to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice when their pagers go off.

Every Thursday evening and Sunday morning they can be found at their base at the Lough Erne Yacht Club, taking part in training exercises where they will practise skills such as recovering a casualty from the water, towing methods, navigating in poor weather conditions and leaving the equipment ready for service.
The RNLI is separate from the Coastguard, independent of the Government and rely on its volunteers and supporters to run its lifesaving service.
Crews give up their time and comfort to save lives on the water and are regularly called away from their families, their beds and their work, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As well as going out on rescues, crew members also commit to regular training afloat and onshore, and additional specialist training.
What does it take to be in the RNLI? “Time, commitment and a will to help people,” says Rory Hoy. 
“You need a genuine interest and a belief that the RNLI is a good cause. Because if you haven’t got the belief in the cause, sooner or later something will peeve you off and if you don’t have that to fall back on, you’ll walk – Everything else, we can teach,” adds Gary Jones.
Gary is the Enniskillen RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM). He was one of the locals involved in ensuring that Enniskillen became the RNLI’s first inland lifeboat station back in 2002. The charity is now based at three other inland locations in Northern Ireland and is also based at Carrybridge on Upper Lough Erne.
A local committee was formed in the nineties including representatives from the council, police, coastguard and locals which examined the health and safety needs on Lough Erne.
“Out of that sprung the clear need for a lifeboat or two on Lough Erne,” said Gary. He approached the RNLI but, at that time, the charity’s constitution only covered the sea - it did not cover inland waterways. Gary, Peter Scott, Archie Burrell and Brian McAleer got together and formed a company called Lough Erne Rescue. Six months later, the RNLI said it was re-looking at its constitution and asked if they could run an inland pilot in Enniskillen.
“We jumped at the chance,” said Gary, adding: “We went live at this site in May 2002 and we’ve never looked back.”
As a manager, Gary is in charge of authorising launches and day-to-day station management.
He describes it as “the hands-on shore stuff” which includes making the decision to page the crew for a ‘shout’; liaising with the Coastguard to ensure it is safe for the RNLI lifeboat to launch; driving the tractor and getting the boat physically onto the water; and organising the shout from the land, sending out more crew with fuel etc.
The two Deputy Launching Authorities (DLAs) at Enniskillen are Ian Mackie and Irwin Montgomery. The lifeboat press officer is Stephen Ingram. There are 19 crew in total. Six crew members are Helms (the most experienced crew members who have completed all 38 training modules) and there is one senior Helm.
Ideally, the Enniskillen station would like a few more crew members.
“There will be people who won’t be able to do certain things but are great at other things – we will find a role for them,” said Gary, adding: “There are crew who never achieve all 38 modules, but they are constantly being re-assessed and they are attending training on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings. We would need crew to be with us twice a month but, in reality, most people are down every week.”
Describing the thought process when an RNLI crew member’s pager goes off, Gary said: “You just jump in the car. Your first thought it: ‘What is it?’ As soon as you arrive the DLA or LOM will be here to tell you the details of the shout. We now have a Whatsapp group so I can give crew as much detail as possible in advance of them arriving.”
The ideal time from the pager going off until the crew are in the water is 15 minutes.
“You don’t hang about,” Gary comments, adding: “The kit is dead handy. You can put your woolly bear over your clothes and then step into the dry suit which is a one-piece suit which you zip up. It’s quick. The guys are still kitting as they get into the boat. They are so well trained that initiative kicks in.”
He continued: “Before the boat is launched the crew are fully brought up to speed on what they are going to and they ensure they have all the proper equipment they need for the shout, so they are not out on the water and realising they need a stretcher. That minute here can save a lot of time down the line.”
Enniskillen RNLI attended 35 shouts last year. Over its 16 years on Lough Erne, the majority of shouts have been to vessels which have run aground. However there have been a number of tragic incidents where the crew have been required to retrieve the bodies of people who have drowned or taken their own lives.
“Our very first call out in 2002 was the two Germans who fell of the cruiser and both were lost – we got one on the morning the call came out but the second person we didn’t get until two or three weeks later,” Gary recalled.
“As part of training you make crew aware that they maybe have to deal with a casualty or a death. It’s about being mentally prepared for that. Part of the LOM’s role is to put the right crew on the boat depending on the shout,” he said.
Gary’s advice to people using the water is: “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
In addition, Rory emphasised: “If life jackets are worn, you will still be alive when we get to you. A lot of boats have them, but most people don’t put them on. Even mid-winter you will survive until we find you if you have a life jacket on.”
Gary agrees: “We have a 15 minute turn around to launch, plus travel time, therefore it could be a minimum of 30 minutes to get to wherever the person is. Can you tread water for 30 minutes with clothes on, having fallen in unexpectedly? With a life jacket on, they will survive, plus they are an awful lot easier seen when we go looking for them.”
He has noticed that “complacency around life jackets and servicing of boats is a big problem.”
The Enniskillen crew agree that the amount of time dedicated to the RNLI “is not an issue.”
“You don’t think of the time aspect. Thursday night is lifeboat night,” said Rory, concluding: “It’s a nice feeling when you actually do save somebody. There’s a sense of achievement that you’ve done something worthwhile.”